Guest post written by Lindsey McCoy
Can a shampoo bottle change the world? The team at Plaine Products likes to think so. Discouraged by the amount of single use plastic bottles they saw washing up on beaches and piling up in landfills, they began a mission to stop single use plastic waste, one bathroom at a time. They’ve replaced the standard plastic shampoo bottle, found on bathroom shelves around the world, with a reusable, refillable aluminum one.
Their customers return their empty bottles (often reusing their shipping packaging as well) for the Plaine Products team to clean, refill, and redistribute. Their product line includes shampoo, conditioner, body and hand wash, hair repair, beauty oil, as well as a line of face care products. Together with their customers, they are on track to reach the milestone of diverting half a million plastic bottles from landfills in 2022, thanks to their circular system. A counter on their website keeps track, so customers can see their growing impact first hand.
Plaine Products was founded by two sisters, Lindsey Delaplaine McCoy, CEO, and Alison Delaplain Webster, COO. Lindsey spent nearly a decade living in The Bahamas working for an environmental nonprofit. On a daily basis, she witnessed beaches littered with plastic bottles and made it a personal mission to reduce single-use plastic packaging in her life. She was successful until she tried to replace her hair and face care in the bathroom and could not find a suitable replacement. It was then she decided to team up with her sister to start a packaging and product revolution. Here’s how it works: Customers visit the website to order their products, which arrive with a pump.
They return to the site to order refills before they run out of product, or they can subscribe and the refills are sent automatically. Once the original bottle is empty, they simply switch the pump over to the refill. The empty bottles go in the refill box with a free return label and are picked up by the post office to be returned, washed, sanitized and reused. What’s inside Plaine Product’s reusable bottles is just as important as the packaging. Each is filled with a vegan, nontoxic, cruelty-free product, and free from sulfates, parabens, phthalates, silicone and palm oil. Available in many refill shops around the country, Plaine Products are also sold via the company website, with recycled and recyclable packaging (down to the paper tape and recyclable shipping labels) and carbon neutral shipping.
After spending over a year honing their packaging and the process for bottle intake and order fulfillment, Lindsey and Ali founded Plaine Products in 2017. The process was filled with trial and error, and continues to be honed today to make the process even more sustainable. In 2019, Lindsey participated in Exxpedition, an all women sailing expedition focused on researching plastic hot spots in oceans. She spent ten days aboard the vessel on a voyage from Aruba to Panama. She helped count litter floating on the water’s surface, removed plastic pieces from the ocean, and captured water to examine unseen micro-plastic particles.
“It was exciting to be a part of solution-based science,” Lindsey said, “and to see first hand that there are so many aspects to solving the plastic pollution problem that the world is facing.” The use of plastic products is so pervasive and it is one that must be tackled from every possible angle. As powerful as it was to be involved in the Exxpedition project, Lindsey also found what she saw to be overwhelming. Although she knew it from her own experience on the beaches of The Bahamas, this trip confirmed that plastics are everywhere. In part, she wondered if the problem had grown too big for anyone to solve. However, instead of becoming discouraged, she pledged to work harder than ever to not only grow Plaine Products, but also to give her followers, via the company’s Instagram page, the information and tips they need to make one small change at a time to help save the environment.
In the four years since the Plaine Products launch, they have seen a growing focus on product sustainability, and equally a growing demand for eco-friendly products of all kinds. The company’s competition is increasing and the marketplace is becoming more crowded with sustainable products. That means Lindsey and her team have to work harder to tell the company’s story. However, they welcome the competition, since the end result is cleaner oceans and a healthier earth. “We really see other sustainable companies as partners instead of competitors, helping raise awareness and combat the myth that environmentally friendly products mean compromising on quality. While that might have been true in the past, it is no longer the case,” Lindsey said. “Each time a consumer has a positive experience with a sustainable product, it increases the likelihood that they will seek out another. We see traditional products, with excessive packaging and unnecessary chemical ingredients, as our real competition,” she said.
Although Lindsey and her team are excited to see more companies moving to more sustainable packaging, specifically towards metal and glass and away from plastic, Lindsey cautions that metal and glass are really only the first step toward sustainable packaging. Plaine Products is committed to working with other brands to help the industry as a whole migrate towards a circular model where the packaging is reused as many times as possible before it is recycled. The benefit of glass and metal packaging is the ease at which it can be processed and the number of times it can be recycled. Plastic, when it can be recycled, usually can only be recycled once or twice before it becomes unusable and ends up in the waste stream. Metal packaging can be recycled without any quality loss and never needs to end up in the waste stream, Lindey said
Growth in the sustainable products market has given Plaine Products more focus on their own company messaging. “We realize that there are so many messages about dangers in the environment and the need for more sustainable lifestyle practices that consumers can become very overwhelmed and ignore the problem all together,” Lindsey said. She explained that, “we take a ‘progress not perfection’ stance, asking people to slowly make eco-friendly lifestyle changes, one at a time, and to not be discouraged when they, for example, forget their reusable shopping bags on a trip to the grocery store. When all of us do a little bit, the cumulative impact is meaningful. Consumers have real power in the choices that they make and what they demand from businesses,” she said.
Plaine Products recently moved into a new warehouse and fulfillment space, substantially increasing their footprint. Instead of building new, they acquired a building that had been empty for some time and steadily worked on renovations, with a focus on recycling and repurposing materials along the way. The new space has room for a Plaine Products’ showroom and warehouse and will at some point host other retail-focused, like-minded businesses, creating a sustainability hub for the Cincinnati community, giving the company and the industry new growth potential.
Although the company is certainly poised for growth, they will continue to expand with the environment in mind. “We’re looking for real, environmentally-focused solutions, not just a way to sell more products,” Lindsey explained. The company is focused on expanding their product line, with a commitment to vegan, non-toxic ingredients, that will help customers rid their bathrooms of products traditionally packaged in single use plastic bottles. “We’re not interested in creating demand for a product that did not previously exist, but instead helping people find viable alternatives for products they are already using,” Lindsey said. Too often, we’re pummeled with marketing messages about new and more convenient products that we must try. Lindsey encourages consumers to think of the environment ahead of convenience in their purchasing decisions and to acquire new products thoughtfully and cautiously.
Lindsey and her team realize the potential for the Plaine Products circular model, and so do their followers.. “We are constantly getting messages from our followers and customers about expanding into other areas of the home,” Lindsey said. “There are so many applications in this refill market,” she said. She is excited as she sees other products enter the sustainable packaging and refill market because it will take such a collective effort of both corporations and consumers to make plastic-free, reusable packaging the rule, instead of the novelty. “We truly are on a mission to change the world, one bathroom at a time,” she said,” but we know we can’t do it alone. It’s going to take a variety of solutions for every room of the house.” She’s mindful that the Plaine Products’ mission is to give customers plastic-free product options in the bathroom, but to also inspire them to look for eco-friendly alternatives to products all over the home. “Your purchasing dollar has a lot of potential to lead to positive environmental changes,” she said. “We hope that people who purchase Plaine Products see that they don’t have to compromise on how their hair and skin look and returning the bottles for reuse doesn’t create a burden, but instead it relieves eco-anxiety. We designed the system to be as painless and convenient as possible,” Lindsey said.
Progress, not perfection is advice that Lindsey will continue to give both to her customers, her own corporate team, and to other business owners, as well. Building a business requires a series of little steps and, according to Lindsey, it’s important to keep the focus on moving forward. “It’s better to get started than to worry about perfection,” Lindsey said. Using her own business as an example, “our packaging, website, and even our logo has evolved over time. Each day provides an opportunity for more learning that can help a business to continue to move forward,” Lindsey explained. That learning can come from customers, employees, other businesses and experts in the space, which includes bloggers and influencers who are invested in promoting solutions. For Lindsey and her team, this business advice has become a life mantra as well, as they continue to work to create a better, plastic-free world, one bathroom at a time.